U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Mark Green's Participation in a Press Roundtable


For Immediate Release

Thursday, May 17, 2018
Office of Press Relations

American Club Dhaka
Dhaka, Bangladesh
May 17, 2018

MR. McCLESKEY: Well, good morning, everyone. I'm Clayton McCleskey. I'm the Spokesperson for USAID, and just really want to thank all of you for being here. I enjoyed the opportunity to speak with some of you earlier, and I'm now glad that you'll have the opportunity to have a conversation with the Administrator and others on the delegation about this visit.

I would also like to give a special welcome to those of you who are watching us livestream via Facebook Live. We look forward to continuing the conversation after this press avail, so please be sure to follow the Administrator, @USAIDMarkGreen, and of course, @USEmbassyDhaka, and we can continue the conversation together.

This morning we'll have three speakers. First, you'll hear from the Chargé d'Affaires, Joel Reifman, here at the U.S. Embassy, our host for the week who we're very thankful for. Then USAID Administrator Mark Green, and then Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Population, Refugee, and Migration Ambassador Mark Storella.

This week, the Administrator has been here; we visited Cox's Bazar earlier this week, met with Bangladeshi officials, spoke with the USAID team here on the ground, and really gotten the sense of the wide range of programming that USAID does here, and you'll hear more about that from the Administrator. He's here on a trip on behalf of Secretary Pompeo, and we'll give you a little bit more about that during the briefing. So, with that, I'll hand it over to the Chargé, and again, sir, thank you so much for hosting us this week.

MR. REIFMAN: Thank you. It's our pleasure. Can you all hear me?


MR. REIFMAN: All right. It's a pleasure to have all of our visitors here, and I want to welcome all of you distinguished journalists present. Thank you for your attendance today, and as this is the eve of Ramadan, I wish you in advance a Ramadan Mubarak. First, let me take a moment and introduce some of our delegation led by the USAID Administrator, Mark Green.

We have Gloria Steele, who's our Senior Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Asia Bureau of USAID, and I believe, although I don't see him immediately, we may have Javier Piedra, who's the Deputy Assistant Administrator for South and Central Asia, and William Steiger, who's the Chief of Staff.

So, Administrator Green and his team just returned on Wednesday morning from visiting the Rohingya camps in Cox's Bazar. Yesterday he met with Bangladesh government officials and will soon leave for Burma to discuss with that government, steps needed to address the crisis in Rakhine state and violence in other areas of the country.

Administrator Green was sworn in as USAID's eighteenth administrator in August 2017, and prior to joining USAID, he served as President of the International Republican Institute, President and Chief Executive Officer for the Initiative for Global Development, and Senior Director at the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition.

Administrator Green has also served as the U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania from mid-2007 to early 2009, and he served as a Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Wisconsin's Eighth District for four terms, from 1999 to 2007. So, we're very pleased, as Ambassador Bernicat says, we have someone who has been on all sides of assistance, from administering it to authorizing the funds to being on the implementing side. So, we're very honored.

Administrator Green's leadership and experience in foreign policy and development is presently focused on assisting with the humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis. And now, it is my honor to request Administrator Green share his reflections from his trip to Bangladesh with the media present as well as those following our Facebook Live. Administrator Green?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Great, thank you. Thanks, Joel, and thanks to all of you for being here, and I joining Joel in saying early Ramadan Mubarak. I'd also like to thank the people of Bangladesh for their tremendous hospitality this week. Bangladesh has a well-deserved reputation for hospitality and kindness, and we have benefited from that and seen that firsthand.

The United States and Bangladesh share a long history of partnership and cooperation and friendship. USAID has particularly deep roots in this country; in fact, over the last couple of days, several Bangladeshis with whom I've spoken have told me that they can recall the days some decades ago when they were receiving food aid with the USAID logo on it.

Things have changed a little bit since then as Bangladesh has risen rapidly, now graduating from low-income status, something that is indeed to be celebrated. There is much to do, of course, and we will continue to work closely together, our governments, on a number of fronts. From global health to food security, from economic development to democratic governance, we are working together on so many fronts.

Of course, we are also working together these days on a tragic cause: a humanitarian crisis. As I have seen firsthand this week, we are working together, partnering, to help address one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. In particular, I want to express my sincere appreciation for Bangladesh's leadership in responding to the Rohingya humanitarian crisis. We are all working together to address the crisis and to help people who have been displaced by violence.

America truly admires the compassion that Bangladesh has shown in extending a welcome to these poor, beleaguered people. Since August 2017, nearly 700,000 people, mostly Rohingya women and children, have fled violence in Burma's Northern Rakhine state. This is one of the most rapid displacements of people that the world has ever seen. History will long remember the suffering of the Rohingya people, but history will also long remember the generosity that Bangladesh has shown as this crisis has unfolded.

I am here -- as you have heard, I am here on behalf of Secretary Mike Pompeo to listen, to learn, and to take back observations on how the United States can help to end this crisis. The humanitarian needs of the Rohingya are vast and growing. I saw this firsthand on Tuesday in Cox's Bazar, where nearly 700,000 Rohingya have sought refuge. I met with newly arrived refugees who told gruesome stories of violence, of homes destroyed, of livelihoods lost.

I also met with Bangladeshis who told me about their recollections in those dark, dark days as the crisis unfolded, Bangladeshis who instantly welcomed these people with kindness, kindnesses large and small. One cannot help but be inspired by this show of generosity on behalf of the Bangladeshis towards the suffering people. I would say that all of us owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to Bangladesh for saving lives. We owe you so much.

The United States will continue to work with Bangladesh as we respond to this crisis together. That is why earlier this week I announced $44 million in new assistance for the Rohingya and vulnerable populations in Burma and Bangladesh. The United States, USAID, the State Department, and others have contributed nearly $300 million to respond to this crisis since Fiscal Year 2017.

While in Cox's Bazar, I saw how U.S. Government-funded programming is supporting refugees by providing food, protection, emergency shelter, water, sanitation, health care, and psychosocial support for people affected by the crisis. I also saw how non-governmental organizations, the Government of Bangladesh, and USAID are all working closely together, and I saw how the needs continue to grow. We will continue to offer more assistance, especially with cyclone and monsoon season posing new and very serious risks.

While humanitarian aid helps to relieve suffering, we also must focus on the root causes of this conflict and on long-term solutions. That's why today, I will be flying to Burma, where I will be calling on the Government of Burma to do its part. This includes immediately ending the violence in Rakhine and other conflict states; restoring the rule of law; immediately granting humanitarian access to all those who are in need; facilitating the safe and voluntary return of refugees to their homes; allowing for media access throughout the country; and addressing the harsh discrimination that is at the root of this terrible crisis.

This week I have had great discussions with Bangladeshis, including government officials, about the strong ties between our two countries. We have reviewed our close work together, not only in supporting those displaced by conflict, but on other opportunities for us to deepen our relationship going forward in other areas. I have also voiced concerns, because America and Bangladesh are indeed friends, and that friendship is based upon shared values. And friends should be willing to talk open and honestly with each other.

The ongoing arrest of opposition leaders, reports that we have all seen of extrajudicial harassment and detention of journalists -- sometimes on trumped up charges -- well, that concerns every true friend of Bangladesh -- the U.S. included. Experience tell us that responsive, democratic governance is an irreplaceable ingredient in the long-term sustainability of successful economic development.

In my meetings this week, I have also noted the importance of Bangladesh holding free, fair, and participatory elections that truly reflect the will of the Bangladeshi people. I often say, as Administrator, that the purpose of foreign assistance must be ending its need to exist. At USAID, our mission is to help our partners as they progress on their journey to self-reliance. We have seen the remarkable historic progress that Bangladesh has made. A country once receiving food aid is now lending a generous, helping hand to its neighbors; to people in need.

Working together, we have dramatically reduced the maternal and child mortality in Bangladesh and tripled the production of rice and achieved six percent annual GDP growth over the last decade. This is great progress, and it is progress that we hope to help build upon in coming years. While there are real challenges ahead, we should pause for a moment and celebrate this remarkable progress.

It has been an honor to be here this week, to learn more about Bangladesh's progress and USAID's friendship with this wonderful country. We thank you for this partnership, this friendship. And again, in particular, personally, I want to thank the people of Bangladesh for the wonderful, inspirational hospitality that we've enjoyed these last few days.

MR. REIFMAN: Thank you, Administrator Green. Also, I've been remiss in not introducing a key member of our delegation. To my right is Mark Storella, and he is the Deputy Assistant Secretary in the State Department's Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. Thank you.

MR. STORELLA: Okay. Thank you very much to all, and Administrator Green, thank you very much as well. I want to start by saying that I'm very proud to be able to join Administrator Green on this delegation from Washington. It demonstrates that the USAID and Department of State are working together, because this immense crisis requires a whole-of-government response to respond to the tremendous needs of this vast number of Rohingya, who have crossed your borders.

I want to reiterate what the Administrator said about our gratitude and admiration for the government and people of Bangladesh. In Cox's Bazar, one of the things I was most struck by was that some of the first responders to this crisis were normal Bangladeshi citizens -- often poor people themselves who opened their homes and shared their tables with people who were destitute, vulnerable, and deeply traumatized. We also saw the action of your security services, the army, and local law enforcement, who themselves took time and made tremendous efforts to provide protection for these terribly vulnerable people as they moved across your borders, which your government generously opened.

We're impressed by the work of the Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission, by the Deputy Commissioner and by their unending efforts to work with 150 UN agencies and NGOs from around the world to make sure that relief reaches the people who are most in need of that relief. As the Administrator said, the needs that we face in this crisis are absolutely immense. The United Nations issued a joint response plan recently for $951 million to cover the needs until the end of the year. I'd like to underline that that joint response plan tried to address the needs of one million Rohingya and other people who have crossed the border, but also 300,000 Bangladeshis, who are in host communities and who are bearing a great deal of the burden of the support for this humanitarian response. And I want to say that we have not forgotten those people and we will continue to stand by the people of Bangladesh as we move forward.

We are facing, as the Administrator said, monsoons, which will overlay on top of this manmade crisis, a natural crisis as well. And one of the focuses of our visit has been to look at the work that is being done by the Government of Bangladesh under its leadership with all of the different agencies, to try to do the very best we can to prepare for the challenges that those monsoons will present. I'd also like to say that the United States supports the efforts of the Government of Bangladesh to work with Burma to determine the conditions that will be necessary for eventual repatriation for those who will be able to go back. In those efforts, including with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, where he signed an MOU back on April 13th, it was made clear that any eventual returns must be voluntary, safe, and dignified.

And one of the things that we will be working on is trying to ensure that such conditions can be created in Burma to permit eventual returns for those who want to go back. Let me end with something, again, that Administrator Green raised. At its heart, this terrible tragedy and humanitarian crisis is really about human dignity. The people of Bangladesh and your government have demonstrated that you are champions in supporting the dignity of the Rohingya, and I think that you are heroes to us all, and that this government and the people of Bangladesh deserve both our admiration, and the support of the entire world in meeting this crisis. Thank you.

MR. McCLESKEY: Thank you, Ambassador Storella, for that. And now, we'd love to take some of your questions and have a bit of a conversation. We'll start with a question from Reuters. Serajul, over to you.

QUESTION: I have a couple of questions, and it is addressed to Mr. Mark Green. In Cox's Bazar, you have already announced an additional financial assistance, $44 million. But how much money is the U.S. willing to front for the relief efforts? Number one. And number two, Donald Trump recently sent a letter to Hasina, expressing support. How and when will the Bangladesh be seeing any of this support?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you for those questions. Well, first of all, I'll answer the second question first. I would say that the Government of the United States has been showing great support to the Government of Bangladesh. We have for many years and will continue to. I think that is evidenced by the number of programs that we are working on jointly, from global health, to agribusiness, to democracy, democratic governance. The partnership that we are working on together is robust and will continue to be so.

In terms of how much we are willing to do, I'll answer that two ways. First, the assistance that we provide is based upon need. And that's part of what we do, not just with my being here, but our team does all the time. Our team here, the State Department and USAID, are constantly in touch with the government and constantly on the ground and out in the field, examining needs and trying to find ways to be very supportive. I was asked numerous times in the last couple of days whether the U.S. would turn to our friends and allies and ask them to do more, and the answer is yes.

This is a global challenge, and it requires the response of a number of donor nations who can come forward to support human dignity, to help relieve suffering, and to try to provide some relief. So, we will continue to be supportive and provide support. Our support will be based upon honest assessments of need. We will ask others to do more as well.

Finally, I'd like to come back to a point, a very important point, that Mark Storella made, and he is absolutely correct, and it was an important point to make. And that is the support that we provide is not simply to those who have come here from Burma and the conflict states there, but also the communities here in Bangladesh, which have been supportive and are hosting. We recognize that there are costs to this being done. And so, we want to be supportive as well to those communities. I believe we are. And that's why in the announcements that we've made, we've tried to make very clear that this is also support for those communities.

MR. McCLESKEY: Excellent. We'll go to the next question --

QUESTION: Before --

MR. McCLESKEY: Oh, I'm sorry.

MR. REIFMAN: I'm sorry. Before we go to the next question, I'd like to ask Storella --

MR. STORELLA: Let me just add that with the pledge made by Administrator Green two days ago, United States assistance to the entire region to deal with the refugee crisis, now is at nearly $300 million since 2017. The vast majority of that, over $200 million, is focused on the needs here in Bangladesh. Immediately before getting on the plane, I met with Congressional staffers in Washington, with colleagues of Administrator Green from USAID who are deeply interested in the needs here on the ground.

One of the things that I want to convey to people in Bangladesh is that our Congress is deeply seized of this issue, and there's tremendous interest and support for what the people of Bangladesh have done in meeting this crisis. And we will return with the information that we obtain during this delegation visit to inform Congress to ensure that that support continues into the future.

MR. McCLESKEY: Wonderful. Thank you, sir. Shahidul from New Age, you said that you had a question earlier.

QUESTION: Mr. Green, you were on the grounds yesterday. And a few weeks back, we had seen the UN Security Council delegation in Cox's Bazar. And we were aware about the debates in the UN Security Council. Our observation is that most of the countries have been playing on Rohingya issues based on their own foreign policy perspectives or priorities. Do you think that countries should liberate themselves above their foreign policy limitations that restricting the accountability -- question of accountability of the perpetrators in Rakhine, as well as restricting repatriation from Bangladesh?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: What I can say to you is that the support that has been announced in the last few days from USAID, on top of, as Mark Storella said, the numerous announcements of support which have come from State, USAID, the broad U.S. Government in recent weeks, we do so on the basis of humanitarian need. Our humanitarian assistance is not based upon political gains. It is based upon human suffering and the opportunity to try to help relieve human suffering. That is the approach that the United States of America takes, so of course we believe in that approach, and we would encourage other nations to look at this the same way.

There are political challenges. There are diplomatic challenges. We all understand that, but we also understand that right now what we see is a humanitarian challenge. With the monsoons approaching, there are humanitarian needs, and so we believe that right now the humanitarian needs are paramount. And that is why we provide the support that we do, and we urge other nations to join us in doing so.

It is true that we all believe a long-term solution must be attained, but that doesn't mean that we wait around while the humanitarian challenges are as they are. And so, we will continue to be supportive on a humanitarian basis. And then, we will also work through diplomatic channels, conversations. Again, we are moving onto Burma ourselves to talk about a long-term solution.

MR. McCLESKEY: Thank you, sir. And Raheed?

QUESTION: In your opening statement, you referred that while you visiting in Burma you will ask the Myanmar Government to take their part to end this solution. But when we noticed that still the world communities is divided -- I particularly refer to the UN Security Council. When we noticed the May 14th meeting, other than the briefing -- post-brief -- visit briefing of the UN Security team, they have a closed-door meeting, where they were divided whether to issue any resolution or take strong action against Burma to make them accountable to end this crisis.

So -- and on the other way, there is an argument that those perpetrators who had alleged engagement for the actual city violence and everything, they should be made accountable. So, do you think that [inaudible] bring those perpetrators into book, there is any chance in the near future that Myanmar is focusing to a root cause of the crisis? That is the first part.

And the second part is that so far we know that other than Bangladesh and the world community, we are focusing on safe and voluntary repatriation of the Rohingya refugees. On the ground really it is not that conducive that encourage the Rohingya people to go back to their original place of origin. So, in the context of that, you are focusing now on more on monsoon and other thing. Don't you think that in a long way, considering the situation that they will stay in Bangladesh for a longer time? So, in the context, do you feel that we should also focus on how this Rohingya will do -- dwell in Bangladesh if they stay here for a longer time? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, you're asking more than one question. I think you were asking a question, you were making a passionate point, too. So, what I can say is this. I am in Bangladesh today, and I have been on behalf of the Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as he and I spoke shortly before I left. And here, as when I go to Burma later today, my principal goal is to listen, to learn, to observe, to try to analyze, and to bring what we have seen and learned back to the Secretary and to the Department of State so that we can develop approaches -- most effective approaches that we can -- to both relieving the suffering, that is well documented, that we all see, as well as trying to play a constructive role in a long-term solution.

I have learned a great deal here in Bangladesh from government officials, from Rohingya with whom I spoke, and with Bangladeshi communities who have played host to Rohingya who have come here. I look forward to going to Burma and having similar conversations and talking with people, listening, learning, analyzing, and bringing back the analysis and what we learn back to the Secretary of State. And what I can tell you is that the United States of America is looking to find constructive answers, and we want to do that based upon facts; what is on the ground and what we hear. And so, we will continue having conversations as we have here, we will do so in Burma.

MR. STORELLA: Could I add that when we discuss trying to address the root causes of this conflict and the crisis, that a lot of work has been done already, including by the Rakhine Commission headed by Kofi Annan. And both the Governments of Bangladesh and Burma have said they endorse the 88 recommendations that were made in that commissioned report. We should still look back on that report for some guidelines in how a broad solution can be reached.

MR. McCLESKEY: Yes, thanks, sir. Masud Karim, you have a question?

QUESTION: Hello. My question on politics -- you had mentioned, about the concern you have expressed from U.S. Government about the elections and installed opposition leaders, and about the media freedom, et cetera. So, can you elaborate on what actually you're meaning -- what you observed as they key local government election, and [inaudible] operation has held. And your Ambassador, Ambassador Bernicat, has expressed concern and said, for credible investigation [inaudible] and many other local government elections, or of national elections.

So, how do you look at the whole situation? And, as you have said to opposition leader [inaudible], if you look forward to the [inaudible], that it was in a judicial process. So, how do you see the whole situation? Thank you.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Thank you. I will turn, in a moment, to my colleague the Chargé d'Affaires, to talk about the observations of the mission team. I will say this: from my background, I'm an old democracy guy. So, I believe in freedom of press, freedom of association. I believe in the right of people to express themselves and to vote for leaders and participate in the process and shape their future. Those are basic things that we support, as Americans. We are imperfect ourselves, but those are the principles that we try to be guided by. And so, that is always my point of view.

We have so much in common with Bangladesh, and as I said, as an honest friend, you have heard me, in my statement, express some concerns. But as a general matter, we are believers in free exchange of information, association, speech, journalism. We think it is healthy for democracy. And finally, I'll say I'm a recovering politician. I served in Congress for eight years. I have been on the receiving end and yet, I'm still talking to all of you. So, I know what it is like, and politics is messy. But, we believe in the give-and-take. It's good. We think it is a good thing and it is healthy.

MR. REIFMAN: Thank you very much. I will echo the -- Ambassador Bernicat's comments of yesterday, that we do commend the participation of the Awami League, the BMP, and the other parties during yesterday's [inaudible] city corporation elections. And, we applaud the timely completion of the election process.

However, we are concerned by reports of alleged irregularities, intimidation, and violence. It is important that these irregularities be investigated, transparently and impartially, and that we encourage the election commission and other governmental authorities to investigate these allegations thoroughly and take the appropriate actions.

We also call on all parties involved to work within the law and to avoid violence at all costs. This is consistent with the honorable Prime Minister's call for free, fair, and credible elections. And what weaves into that, and you had asked about [inaudible], is that she receives fairness and due process of law. Thank you.

QUESTION: [inaudible]

MR. REIFMAN: We have. In fact, Administrator Green had mentioned his concerns publicly. And so, we -- Bangladesh and the United States both share democratic DNA. And we respect each other greatly and feel that we both can flourish in a democratic system with a democratic process. So, as the Administrator stated, among friends, we certainly share our -- we discuss those goals, and democracy is a shared value.

MR. McCLESKEY: Well, thank you for that question. Now, the Independent.

QUESTION: Well, thank you very much. I think you found it difficult to pronounce my first name. That's why you went --

MR. McCLESKEY: You caught me.

QUESTION: Mr. Administrator, my -- usually, I ask very brief questions, but since it's named "roundtable," so I think I have the privilege to use some words. Look, regarding -- I will stick to Rohingya issue, because your visit is intended to help the Rohingya crisis. Before I came to this program, I was sharing with one of my colleagues that, "What, new, the Administrator can say?" Because all the words have been said. All the praises have been showered on Bangladesh for its hospitality, generosity, et cetera, et cetera.

Now, I tend to believe that it's time to do something. And at the United Nations Security Council briefing, Nikki Haley was saying something, if I may refer to her statements. She was talking about something, extraordinary tools or unique tools, United Security Council has got, while she was indirectly criticizing China. And she was also seeking for a resolution.

Now, given my experience -- not like you, but 27 years, only -- I have seen that America always gets its way if it wants. And there is a feeling in our Foreign Ministry that, if America wants, things can be done. How hard will you be on Myanmar Government to make them take their people back and give us some free space in our prime land, Cox's Bazar? Thank you.

MR. McCLESKEY: Thank you for the question.

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: Well, first and foremost, I am there to listen and learn and to bring back observations. And the observations are changing, with the monsoons -- they're very timely. This is an important time. But it's to bring back observations to brief the Secretary of State, who is America's lead diplomat, and to talk with him, and State Department and USAID both work to see how we can be helpful to achieve a lasting solution. And so, I think it is important that I go in that capacity and in that posture.

I had never been to Bangladesh before, and so for me, this was a learning experience. I have been to Burma before. I was an election observer on that important day in these recent elections, and I carry that experience with me. I carry with me the great hope and promise of democracy in Burma, and I will be carrying that with me as I speak to civil society leaders as well as government officials and everyday people from Burma.

MR. McCLESKEY: I've got an eye on the clock. We're going to have to leave to go to the airport shortly, so we'll only be able to take one more question. But, do we have a question from either Abida or from Paromita here, on the left? Would either of you like to get in the last question?

MR. McCLESKEY: Okay, then we'll go to NTV here at the end.

QUESTION: Hi. Ambassador Mark Green. Again, about your upcoming visit, you were looking at immediate ending violence, safe return of the Rohingya people. But personally, what made you so optimistic? I mean, is there any room for optimism when you're dealing with Myanmar? What is your personal take on it?

ADMINISTRATOR GREEN: So, first off, I am an optimist by nature. If I were not an optimist, I would not be in the development business. So, I am an optimist by nature. So, my optimism, as I prepare to go to Burma, comes from being there on election day, and from seeing young people from all walks of life in that country, bring democracy to a country that had known only authoritarian rule for many, many years. I saw the sacrifices that were made by activists, by students. I met with some who had suffered years of imprisonment and beatings, and I meet and listen to those young people on that election day, and their aspirations toward helping Burma achieve greatness and giving voice to all of their people -- that, to me, is a reason for hope that I take with me.

And so, that is the lens through which I see this, as I go. I need to bring that with me, and to carry that and express that as I talk to people about the terrible crisis that we are seeing here in Cox's Bazar, in this country. So, that's why I am an optimist. It is hard not to be an optimist if you were there on that election day, when we saw young people go quite courageously to grab their freedom.

MR. McCLESKEY: Thank you. We'll have to leave it there so we can get to the airport. Thank you again for coming out. Really appreciate it.

Last updated: July 27, 2020

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